Growing Vegetables

Centipedes, Millipedes and Squash Vine Borers

 Adult Squash Vine Borer, Photo by Jeff Hahn

Adult Squash Vine Borer, Photo by Jeff Hahn

We got a question today from a customer who says centipedes are damaging the roots of his squash plants. "I noticed a bunch (maybe 50) centipedes on the roots of my squash plants."

First of all, they are probably millipedes. Centipedes (which have one set of legs per segment) would be eating other insects. Millipedes (two sets of legs per segment) are sometimes found in large numbers in moist garden soil that contains a lot of organic matter because they feed mainly on decomposing organic matter. Sometimes they will damage young seedlings, but usually the problem starts otherwise; and the millipedes are eating the damaged, rotting stems and roots. For instance, if your soil is staying too wet or if you’re watering late in the day, the problem may have started with root rot. Or if you have squash vine borers, the millipedes will feed on the damaged stems. If you do think your problem is starting and ending with millipedes, I’d apply some diatomaceous earth (or Permaguard which is diatomaceous earth with pyrethrin) around the base of the plant and wherever it touches the soil. Do not use more than you have to however, as this will affect your earthworms also.

In any case, count on squash vine borers to cause problems with this crop. I recommend drenching the stems of your squash plants (especially at the base) with Thuricide (liquid Bt) at least a couple times per week and more if you have time. The moths will lay eggs at the base of your plants, but they will be protected when the larva hatches if it has to eat its way through Bt to get into the stem (the borers/larva will be dead before they can do any real damage). Keep an eye out for the moths which are active during the day. As you can see from the photo, they’re pretty distinctive. Kill them whenever you can, and increase the Bt treatments while they’re active.

 One more caution about watering. You’ll avoid a lot of problems simply by watering early and giving the plants time to dry before evening, but be aware that overhead irrigation will wash the Bt off the squash stems. Drip irrigation solves this problem and (since it does not get the foliage wet) relieves the necessity to water early. If this is not an option, you may want to increase the number of Bt treatments to replace product that has been washed off.

Frankly if I did not love yellow crookneck squash and zucchini as much as I do (and if homegrown squash did not taste so much better than what you get at the store), I would not go to this much trouble. But I do (and it does), so it’s definitely worth the extra work.

Garden to Table: Roasted Fennel and Beet Salad with Tahini Herb Sauce

We are huge fennel fans here at the nursery. It’s a lovely vegetable and very versatile. Fennel is often sliced thin and eaten raw in salads or tossed in a creamy dressing and served as more of a slaw. When eaten raw, it’s crunchy, with a faint anise flavor, which is why I think some people shy away from it. Once it’s roasted or grilled, that anise flavor tames down and the fennel takes on a subtle, sweet flavor. The whole bulb, including the stalks and fronds are edible. I like to save the fronds for garnish and even sprinkle them on other dishes throughout the week. 

Parsley and Dill are also very good, versatile herbs that go well in sauces, soups, stews, salads and many other dishes that accompany this dish. Oh and we certainly cannot forego mentioning how all three of these herbs are great host plants for the black swallowtail buttery. Stop by the nursery to see our herb selection and more butterfly/herb gardening info. 

This recipe is what Elizabeth calls the "perfect winter salad" equipped with her favorite winter herbs and vegetables.

Ingredients:

For the salad:
2 medium-sized fennel bulbs, trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch wedges (save the fronds for garnish)
4 beets, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch chunks
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
Pinch of black pepper
1 cup French green lentils, rinsed and picked over
2 tablespoons fennel fronds
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill

 

For the sauce:

1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 1/2 tablespoons tahini
1/2 teaspoon local honey
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
1/4 cup finely chopped dill
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste

Method:

1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

2. Toss the fennel and beets with the olive oil, salt and pepper. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast in the oven until tender and lightly browned, about 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking.

3. While the vegetables are roasting, place the lentils in a saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered until the lentils are tender, about 20-25 minutes. Drain and set aside.

4. Combine all the ingredients for the sauce in a small bowl and whisk until smooth and creamy. Taste test and adjust seasonings if need be.

4. To serve, divide the lentils between 4 plates and top with the roasted vegetables. Drizzle with the sauce and garnish each plate with fennel fronds, parsley and dill. Season with additional salt and pepper.

Growing Organic Kale is Easy, Even for Beginners!

I eat at a lot of kale at this time of year. My young kale seedlings are just getting started and will soon produce bountiful harvests. I enjoy homegrown kale in salads, soups, sautéed, and even on pizzas. I especially love to mix it with fruits like apples, blueberries or pineapple, to make fresh green smoothies in my blender.

Kale is renowned as a nutritional powerhouse. Its health benefits are primarily linked to the high concentration of antioxidant vitamins A, C, K, and sulphur-containing phytonutrients. One cup of chopped kale contains only 33 calories, yet it yields abundant calcium, vitamins A, C, and lots of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus.

Eating more kale is an easy way to improve the quality of your diet, and growing your own is easier than you think, even if you have little or no experience with vegetable gardening. Fall is the best season for beginners here in Tallahassee and kale is an excellent introductory crop to grow.

For beginners, start out with fresh, healthy plants from your local nursery. You will want at least three plants to have adequate harvests. There are a variety of kales to choose from; my favorites are Lacinato, Dwarf Blue Curly and Red Russian.

Choose a site for a bed or container that gets the most sun in your yard. Even if you have only 3-4 hours of sun, choose the sunniest spot and you will still enjoy harvests. Kale is tolerant of partial shade, but will grow a little slower.

To prepare your bed:

1)    Remove all existing vegetation first, roots and all. This is important as you don’t want pesky sod or weeds competing with your kale for water and nutrients. Your bed can be as long as you need, but remember to not make it wider than four feet so you can still reach across to weed and harvest.

2)    Dig your bed at least a foot deep to loosen up existing soil and break up any tree roots within the bed. You can use a quality round point shovel, heavy duty garden fork, or a mattock. Add a fresh layer of mushroom compost, at least six inches, to your soil.

3)    Dust a layer of organic, granular, slow-release fertilizer like Espoma’s Plant-tone across the compost. If you have quality compost, you can tuck your kale plants right into it, allowing a good 8-10” between plants. Plant the stem just an inch deeper than it is in the pot. Water them in thoroughly with a gentle spray nozzle, and regularly check their watering every few days.

I would also encourage anyone, even beginners, to try growing from seed. Some crops can be difficult, but kale is very easy from seed. Just prepare your soil, sprinkle the seeds over and cover the seed bed with only a light dusting of soil, then water well. The bed should be watered regularly and the seedlings will appear within two weeks. Once they are 3-4” tall, I dig, separate and space them out where want them.

Newly planted kale will take a week or so to establish roots, and then will begin growing. When the plants reach 6” you can begin harvesting leaves. Always harvest the lower leaves first, leaving a few newer top leaves so the plants can continue growing. Watch them grow and keep an eye out for caterpillars, the most common pest on kale. If you begin to see holes in the leaves, look under those leaves and you will likely see a caterpillar. Don’t fret.  

You can just squish them or safely treat them with Dipel dust; a biological insecticide that only kills caterpillars, breaks down quickly and is safe for your organic garden.

Enjoy your harvests of fresh, organic kale well into early spring. Below I’ve included one of my favorite, mouthwatering kale salad recipes for inspiration.

kale_salad.jpg

Ingredients

4-6 cups Lacinato kale, sliced leaves, midribs removed.
Juice of 1 lemon,
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, mashed.
Salt & pepper, to taste.
Hot red pepper flakes, to taste
2/3 cup grated Pecorino Toscano cheese, or other flavorful grating cheese such as Asiago or Parmesan
1/2 cup freshly made bread crumbs from lightly toasted bread

Instructions

  1. Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and a generous pinch (or more to taste) of hot red pepper flakes. 

  2. Pour over kale in serving bowl and toss well.
  3. Add 2/3 of the cheese and toss again.
  4. Let kale sit for at least 5 minutes. Add bread crumbs, toss again, and top with remaining cheese.